Britain to conduct first voicebox transplant

June 20th, 2011 - 7:33 pm ICT by IANS  

London, June 20 (IANS) Experts in Britain will perform the country’s first voicebox transplant, third in the world, but are not sure what the patient will sound like after the operation.

The procedure will be carried out by Professor Martin Birchall and his team on a person whose voicebox has been damaged, the Daily Mail reported Monday.

Some 1,000 Britons each year have their voicebox or larynx destroyed, leading to difficulties with swallowing, breathing and speaking, it said.

The first voicebox transplant was carried out in Ohio in 1998 on Timothy Heidler, whose larynx was damaged in a motorbike accident. Last October, American Brenda Jensen became the first to have a combined voicebox and windpipe transplant.

Now, experts at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in London have given their approval for the procedure in Britain, according to the Mail.

Professor Birchall of the University College London said with the right preparations, a transplant could take place early next year.

Patients will need to undergo rigorous psychological assessment for the transplant and will also have to spend the rest of their life on immunosuppressant drugs to stop their body rejecting the organ, it said.

Birchall said a retrieval team would be involved in removing the donor organ. Another team of six surgeons is then required for the 18-hour operation, which will be carried out at the Royal Free Hospital in London, the report said.

The larynx creates and controls sound through the interaction of muscle and cartilage in the vocal cords. This is controlled by sensory nerves. A person’s accent is formed by the way the lips, palate, cheeks and tongue move.

RCS said it is unclear how patients with a transplanted voicebox will sound after the operation.

“It is less certain how the more subtle (but equally important) features of the human voice will present following laryngeal transplantation since these features require additional fine motor control,” the Mail quoted a RCS report as saying.

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